They're the best and they sell. Enough said.
You see them everywhere: at the drugstore, at the mall, at the airport. You might even have them inside your home: on your bedside table, in your purse, next to the john. They're advertised on television, and some people can't stop talking about them.
No, we're not talking about tabloid magazines or prophylactics—we're talking about bestselling books.
These riveting page-turners capture the attention of the masses, but sometimes—and don't tell anyone we told you this (oh, who are we kidding, tell everyone!)—you might learn something. These books tackle the same themes as those stuffy old "classics" you've read, but with an extra injection of fun. Who needs Lord of the Flies when you have The Hunger Games? Well, there's room for both. It's like having a main course with a delicious side. But sometimes, you won't be able to tell which one's the steak (or meatless vegetarian alternative) and which one is the potatoes.
Here's a sneak peek at a video from the course. BYOP (bring your own popcorn).
Unit 1. Top of What Charts?
This unit will introduce you to the world of bestsellers, familiarizing you with the most important bestsellers lists and authors, and describing the process of creating bestselling literature—from story idea to dust jacket.
Unit 2. Game of Stones—Harry Potter and A Game of Thrones
In this unit, you'll read (or reread) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and A Game of Thrones, getting to know the wonderful world of fandom through these bestselling franchises.
Unit 3. The Most Dangerous Games
It's no surprise that dystopia has a place in bestselling literature. In this unit, you'll dig deeper by reading both The Hunger Games and Ready Player One.
Unit 4. 'Cause This is Thriller
Thriller and horror are quite the combination. In this unit, you'll read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Shining, discussing the relationship between authors and their bestselling works as well as what's so intriguing about all this spooky stuff.
Unit 5. Help! We Need Somebody...To Make Sense of this History
Bestselling historical fiction has taken off recently, and this unit will tackle the genre through The Help. Along the way, we'll learn that bestsellers become even better sellers with a little controversy thrown in.
Unit 6. The Perks in Our Stars
You'll finish off by reading some Young Adult hits: The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in Our Stars. Turns out everyone loves teen drama.
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 3: Anatomy of a Bestseller
A bestseller doesn't magically jump from an author's brain like a bunch of gods from Zeus' skull and climb to the top of the bestseller charts.
While you're furiously flipping pages to discover the resolution to the last chapter's cliffhanger, you might think the words you're poring over just effortlessly hopped from brain to fingers to computer screen to paper to bookshelves to the top of charts. Bestselling status achieved; it's time for the author to go back and crank out another one.
[Still Life with Books by L. Block, ca. 1901]
This might be how Nora Roberts does it—seriously, that woman is magic—but for most authors, it's a much more laborious process. It doesn't just depend on skill either. It requires a heaping helping of timing, publicity, and a dash or two of luck.
In this lesson, we'll get a peek at how bestsellers are made. Well, we'll get a peek at how a bestseller is made. Like snowflakes, they might all seem the same on the surface—not that you'd judge a book by its cover—but the story behind each one is different.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.3: The Greatest Mystery: Making a Bestseller
Every author's story is different, but they all seem to involve an epic challenge and a lot of luck.
Take a look at one author's story in this article from The New York Times. Make sure to click on the graphic on the left called "The Publishing Gamble" for more information and, hey, pictures.
Also, make sure to keep your eyes on the road (ahem, we mean, on the very informative article); you'll be needing this info for you next activity.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3a: Secrets to Success
Google "author success stories" and "first time author stories" and see what comes up. Are more authors going the self-published route to stardom? How does their journey differ from that of those who go with a traditional publishing house? Who the heck is E.L. James? And do the fifty shades of grey each have a name?
These are the kinds of questions you'll want to have in your brain as you read your search results.
Using what you know so far, from both the article and your Google searches, write short answers (1-3 sentences each) to each of the following questions:
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.3b: Success: the Road Trip
Now, put yourself in a first-time author's shoes (fuzzy slippers, if you're working from home). Create an illustrated road map to success—something along the lines of when Billy from the Family Circus goes wandering around town, except more thought provoking and less preachy.
Perhaps you can start with "writing a book" and end with "see it at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list." Other "landmarks" you might want to include could be
- finding an agent
- receiving an advance
- writing Harlequin romance under a pen name
- never living up to the hype of your first bestseller and falling into obscurity. Sara Gruen, where are you?
To make your map, you can feel free to kick it old school with pencil and paper, and then take a picture and upload your final product below. Or you can go the high-tech route and use Mr. Computer. Either way, make sure you keep a copy for yourself, so you can compare it to the stories of real-life authors in the next lesson's activity.
- Course Length: 18 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Elective
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1